CHARITY organisation Food For The Poor (FFP) Jamaica recently brought great joy to a group of 18 inmates who had been incarcerated due to their inability to pay their fines for minor offences.
As part of its annual Christmas prison release initiative, the charity paid the outstanding fines to secure the release of the men, giving them the opportunity to rejoin their families and start a new life.
Fifteen inmates were released from St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre and one from Tamarind Farm Adult Correctional Centre in Spanish Town on December 5. The other two inmates were released from Central Police Station in Kingston on December 11.
A major highlight of this year's initiative was the washing of the non-violent inmates' feet at St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre before they were released. Four donors from the United States and two staff members from FFP joined the local team to participate in this humbling experience. Each released inmate not only had his feet washed but was also presented with a new pair of shoes. Some even walked out of the chapel leaving their tattered sandals behind.
"We are here today because of the love of Jesus, and it's our duty to show love to our brothers and sisters in spite of their mistakes. That's how God treats us," explained Scott DeNoma, one of the donors.
The inmates were behind bars for petty offences. Without the money to pay the fines associated with these charges, the men were forced to do the 'time' but with FFP's intervention, this 'time' was significantly reduced for several of the inmates.
Addressing the inmates at the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, FFP Jamaica's Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson said: "We all make mistakes and can testify that we have received many chances from persons who love and care for us. Today, FFP Jamaica is here to share the love, especially during this festive season, to show a group of inmates that they too deserve a second chance."
"Return to society not being bitter men, but being grateful men. If ever you should return, come back not as an inmate, but rather as an inspiration and a beacon of light to the men you'll be leaving here today," she urged the released inmates.
FFP's prison release initiative is anticipated by all. During the ceremonies at St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre and Tamarind Farm, inmates quietly took their place in the chapel to bid the released inmates goodbye. For those released, it is always an emotional and heart-warming experience.
This was the case for the youngest inmate released at St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre — a 19-year-old from Montego Bay who was charged for wounding after trying to appease a confrontation between two persons. "When I came to prison, I thought my life was over and I tried to commit suicide, but a fellow inmate encouraged me not to. All along, I knew God had a purpose for my life but when I heard that FFP was going to pay my fine, I believed even more. I can never repay them for what they have done for me," he shared.
The sole released inmate from Tamarind Farm, a 23-year-old, shared similar sentiments. "When I heard my name, I thought there was another inmate with that name in the room. I couldn't believe it but I thank FFP and the donors for a second chance."
In addition to paying their fines, FFP also provided cash for transportation and lunch, as well as a gift package containing toiletries. They were also instructed to contact FFP by January, when a process will be initiated to help them start some entrepreneurial enterprise.
FFP's prison releases are conducted at Easter and Christmas each year. In Easter of this year, 30 inmates were released, bringing the total number to 48 for the year.